Exploration of the Last Continent | Adventure Kayak Magazine | Rapid Media
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Exploration of the Last Continent Photo: Nate Small

A 14-day self-supported exploration of Antarctica offers two paddlers the chance of a lifetime

The couple huddled for warmth in their tent. The tenacious polar wind howled with delight as it threatened to pry their shelter from its icy footing. Wrapped up in their sleeping bags and damp thermal under-layers Sophie Ballagh and Ewan Blyth could feel the canopy starting to lift off the snow. The cramped nylon dome was their only sanctuary from this hostile environment, and it was losing ground. After nearly two years of planning, the couple couldn't help but wonder if this, day two of their two-week self-supported Antarctic paddling expedition, might be the end of the line.

For most, just getting to the frozen continent is an adventure in itself. Leaving from the southernmost tip of South America, passengers board sturdy, retrofitted research vessels equipped with reinforced hulls, internal stabilizers and built-in ballast systems to withstand the icy waters and harsh seas. Crossing the dreaded Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula, an arm-like extension of West Antarctica, is a two-day voyage exposed to the full brunt of the Southern Ocean. Some days, the passage can be dead calm; on others a 15-meter swell turns ships to bath toys.

With the undelating waves, endless ocean and no land in sight, it's amazing to watch the seabirds gliding effortlessly alongside the boat. Some species, like the wandering albatross, spend years at sea never...

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